Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: Twenty five years on, The (original) Terminator remains unstoppable

Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Kyle Reese, The Terminator

From the previews I’ve seen, Terminator Salvation (which opened today in a theatre near you) looks pretty damned good, at least visually. But it will take one hell of an effort to wrest the title of best Terminator film from the vice-like, cyborg death grip of the original.

I don’t necessarily consider Rotten Tomatoes a bellwether for my own critical appreciation of a film, but it says something that The Terminator (1984) has a perfect, 100% “fresh” rating out of 38 total reviews. I won’t argue with the critics; the first Terminator is still the best in my book. Others argue convincingly for Terminator 2, a fine sequel whose special effects were revolutionary for its time and remain spectacular now. However, in my opinion the first film is better plotted, and more compelling due to its uncompromising ruthlessness and non-stop narrative thrust. T2 is excellent but has a tad too much humor and playfulness injected into the script for my own tastes.

Part of my unabashed love for The Terminator may be nostalgia: I was a kid when I first saw the film and was simultaneously enthralled by the great action and visuals, and haunted by its apocalyptic vision of the future, one which seemed all too plausible—not Skynet or robots, mind you, but nuclear destruction. When The Terminator came out the cold war was still going on and a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union was an all too real possibility. The grim television miniseries The Day After was frightening audiences at the time with the likely impact of a nuclear war, which promised instant annihilation for some, and a prolonged, painful death by radiation poisoning for the less fortunate. The Terminator seized on the fears of the age and a generation growing up with an omnipresent fear of atomic annihilation. I’ll never forget the ominous, mechanical opening theme, and the visceral image of the futuristic tank crushing a mound of skulls under its merciless track.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


Eric D. Lehman said...

Right on. The films I compare these to often are Alien and Aliens. The second may be more 'action-filled' and 'exciting' but the first Terminator (and Alien) are bone-chillingly cold and somehow necessary to watch in a way the second films are not.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Eric, I agree. Alien and The Terminator are also alike in that both can perhaps be classified as horror films with sci-fi trappings (what is the T-800 of the first film if not a cybernetic serial killer, and the Nostromo from Alien a giant haunted house in space)??

I love Aliens and T2, but both are a clear step away from their horror roots and are firmly grounded in the action genre. There's a definite change in the tone of those films. Something in my personality prefers the former.

Mr Baron said...

Great blog post. T1 was just brilliant. T2 was just ok. I just could not get past the fact that now Arnold was a good guy. It just did not feel right.

To Eric's comments, I really liked the gritty orignal Alien, which was indeed a haunted house in space. Aliens was a completely different film, that was very good in its own right. Where the first one was centered around horror, the second was an action movie with commentary on society (big business, the military, etc..). I found the second movie to be a deeper film.

I did not get the same feel from T2.